Taiwan to end conscription, cut force's size

Taiwan has decided to scrap its decades-old military conscription by 2015 in an attempt to trim its force to 200,000, despite the mainland's double-digit-percentage rise in defence spending.

'Beginning January 1, 2015, there will be no more conscripts in the military,' Defence Minister Chen Chao-min announced during a legislative session yesterday.

The number of conscripts will be cut back by at least 10 per cent each year, and military personnel will be recruited on a voluntary basis after that.

To uphold the quality of the voluntary personnel, all soldiers recruited must be at least high school graduates, General Chen stressed.

He said his ministry would also abolish the reserve and military police commands and place those people under the command of the army, navy or air force.

'We hope to complete such mergers by the end of June,' he said.

The plan to phase out conscription was a campaign promise of Ma Ying-jeou during his successful presidential race last year.

Mr Ma, of the mainland-friendly Kuomintang, said Taiwan did not need to put very much money into building up its forces and could spend more economically if relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait remained amiable.

Since taking office in May, Mr Ma has adopted a policy of engaging the mainland, which has led to warming cross-strait relations.

Taiwan requires men aged over 20 to do military service for one year. After conscription was removed, they would still be required to undergo some military training, but would not need to enter the service after that, General Chen said. In that way, Taiwan could have a reserve force.

To fit in with the new development, the Defence Ministry has also scaled down its live-fire drills and has focused on computer simulation and strategic planning.

The pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party accused the Ma government of surrendering to the mainland.

'What the military has been doing and planning is tantamount to totally surrendering to China,' DPP legislator Tsai Huang-liang said.

The mainland, which has more than 1,000 missiles targeting the island, recently announced a 14.9 per cent rise in military spending for this year. By contrast, Taiwan proposed reducing its annual budget by NT$10 billion to NT$315.2 billion (HK$70.5 billion) this year.

The number of service personnel in Taiwan stands at about 275,000, which is already a sharp decline from 600,000 during the cold war.

KMT legislator Kuo Su-chun also questioned the military's ability to maintain sufficiently qualified professional soldiers at a monthly salary of NT$35,000. She said the pay would only be attractive in bad economic times.